High Point, Montana was always a hard place to figure. The scenery was good and the river fished well but something was missing. In the old days, the Indians never stuck around in the winter, clearing out like so many New Yorkers headed for Miami Beach. That should tell you a lot.
These were some of the topics me and Jenny were tossing around as we sat at the Wagon Wheel bar on an October Happy Hour Friday afternoon, waiting for the rest of the crew. But there were more.
Jenny Bishop coming into my life was a blessing. She just showed up in High Point one spring day…said she was from Evergreen, Colorado by way of Aspen…and had to get away. Away from the fast lane in Aspen and away from her abusive boyfriend. She never really talked about him except to say his name was Calvin.
Jenny fit right in. A lot of us in High Point had come from somewhere else…big cities and small towns…got here away from past failures, broken promises, bad relationships or the law. Change your name, wipe the slate clean, start over.
She bred fine, yellow Labrador Retrievers. Her dogs quickly gained a reputation as being tough, birdy and reliable as heck. She tied magnificent trout flies, including one she called the Bishop Special, a blonde elk hair stone fly floater with an orange foam body that became the go-to killer during our local salmon fly hatch. She baked scrumptious strawberry pies featuring fresh berries from her backyard patch, sold them around town and shared them with friends. Add a little Reddi-wip…bingo!
She was blessed with natural beauty and seldom wore make-up save for maybe a touch of rose-colored lip gloss on date nights but that was it. Her shoulder length wheat colored hair parted in the middle blended perfectly with her understated beauty. She was tall at five foot nine but had plenty of curves, high cheek bones and sky-blue eyes. She favored faded jeans, high leather boots and bulky sweaters. Her smile lit up the room. She was enchanting me.
And I had gotten away, too. Away from the family ranch in Two Dot, Montana. Away from feeding cows all winter, fixing fence and moving pipe all summer…away from being broke all the time. When the powers-that-be cut a deal for the Interstate to be built right through town it was enough. We sold the ranch. Time to move on.
It took me a while to find High Pont. After ten or so years of basically doing nothing but fishing all over most of the Western world I settled here. I finally found what I was looking for. Well, not everything.
Jenny and I sat at the far end of the main bar. Before long, Corky and T-Bird rolled in and then Lonnie and Huey showed up. Rachel Kenworthy came in alone dressed in all black, wearing a high-dollar hammered silver and turquois necklace looking like a Montana version of Cher, and joined us. We all convened to a table in back of the bar.
We talked about the summer and the fishing and how we were doing and what was the winter going to be like and then Lonnie butted in, “What’s with this Prescott dude buying the fly shop and the motel and the dude ranch and now the bank?”
“No big deal,” chimed in Huey.
“We taught him a lesson,” added Corky.
“Who gives a fuck? Let’s drink.” Rachel always had the last word. “Hey Smitty, another round por favor!”
Jenny was in a great mood. Her ladies fly fishing school had taken off…she was booked solid for the summer and even had a waiting list. Her lab pups were bringing top dollar and she had a group of high school kids tying flies to her specs which she sold online. We had grown close in mind and spirit. Jenny had moved in with me a year ago and life together was good…really good. We found ourselves spending more and more time together…long hikes with the dogs…moonlight canoe trips on the lake…evenings in front of the fireplace with a little Steely Dan or maybe some Boz Scaggs.
We talked a lot about the future…our future together…making our relationship a strong one, maybe even having kids. I could feel Jenny gradually opening up to me. She talked about growing up back east, attending private all-girls high school, her debutante’s ball, a childhood of money and privilege in Greenwich, Connecticut. With both of her parents gone and being an only child, I got the impression that Jenny had inherited the family fortune.
But something else was bothering me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was there. Like the town of High Point, something was just not quite right with Jenny Bishop.
At the same time the crew was chatting it up during happy hour at the Wagon Wheel, a white van drove slowly by out front. It stopped in front of the bar. The driver looked out of the van window and surveyed the scene. He had gaunt, drawn facial features with dark, sunken eyes, a bad case of adult acne and a scraggly beard. He then made a right turn and headed out of town toward the Interstate. The van had “Big Sky Outdoor Adventures” printed along the side panels.
Next stop, Spokane, Washington.